Pat Challis (Douglas)
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
The biggest challenge which she faced during her teaching career was the developing of a programme for an ungraded class at Oak Bank School. It took her a while to understand and “figure out” what these children truly required to function in society. For instance, they needed to learn such life skills as how to count change and to write a cheque, which were most essential.
Pat was born in Midale, Saskatchewan, and graduated from high school at Austin High School, in Austin, Manitoba. Following graduation, she attended a six-week summer course at Manitoba Provincial Normal School in 1949 which allowed her to teach on a permit for one year. When that was completed, she returned for one year of regular training at the same school. Later, she obtained a Bachelor of Education degree from University of Winnipeg.
Commencing in 1949 and concluding in 1987, with a time-out of ten years to raise a family, she taught for 27 years. Her first school was Path Head S.D. (north of MacGregor, MB) where she was a permit teacher. After graduating from Normal School in 1951, she taught at the following schools: Hagyard S.D. (north of Oak Lake, MB); Macauley S.D. (south of MacGregor, MB); Birchwood School, Flin Flon, MB; Dugald Elementary, Dugald, MB; Oak Bank Elementary, Oak Bank, MB; Queenston School, Winnipeg, MB; and Champlain School, Winnipeg, MB.
During her career, she taught in all grades from grade 1 to grade 8, in rural and urban schools, including an ungraded class. Her largest class was at Macauley School where she had 37 students in all of those grades and supervised grade 9 correspondence students.
In her first school, Path Head School District, there were 27 students, with some being nearly as old as she was. The school was reasonably well-equipped. Heat originated in a large stove situated at the back of the room. Other facilities included outdoor toilets, a pump for water, and hydro for lighting.
Pat was the eighth or ninth consecutive permit teacher, each teaching for one year as prescribed by law. As might be expected, the standard of education was low! Never has she worked so hard in her life! She would arrive at school at 8:00 a.m. and work until 6:00 p.m., often carrying more work home for her evening. As she boarded close to the school, she was able to walk to and fro easily. It was such a wonderful boarding place! In spite of the tiring pace of her work, she truly enjoyed that year!
There were many wonderful teaching experiences! She describes two of them.
At Oak Bank Elementary, she was asked to establish an ungraded classroom for children who, at that time, were called “educable retarded”. These students, ranging in age from 12 to 17 years, were gathered from the rural area in about a thirty-mile radius around Oak Bank. It was a wonderful two years of experience for her as she saw these children blossom! Her job was to conduct these students from a level where each one was to a place where they could function at the best of their ability. For example, many students could not “tell the time”. As a result, she would spend time on that activity until they were successful. Some needed “much” practice.
Another delightful experience lasted throughout her last four years in the classroom at Champlain School, in Winnipeg. She and a colleague, Maline Solomon, team-taught grades 1 to 3, using a child-centred learning approach. They developed their own programme which integrated all the subjects. The two teachers had previously worked together for ten years at Queenston School and had used an individualized reading programme there. In addition, they attended workshops on a child-centred learning approach. Therefore, she felt quite comfortable in tackling the team situation. They spent July of one summer in morning meetings to plan such matters as units and lessons. It was much fun resulting in much success! They verified the old adage that two heads are better than one!
In the process of team-teaching, they took turns at being facilitator while the other recorded. Although they planned, they did not have any set roles for themselves. Pat maybe led the songs a little more while Maline led the poetry a little more. It was a back and forth procedure. They had two classrooms with Maline in charge of grade 1 and Pat in charge of grades 2 and 3. Since Pat’s room was larger, the classes spent much of the day in her room.
In the morning, one of them might say, “I will lead the poetry (or singing).” They did not assign each other to a specific role. The master teacher role did not appear here as both had taught for many years. Pat feels that this approach would be very difficult for teachers at the beginning of their careers. Much coordination between the teachers was necessary. It helped that they had previously worked back and forth in another school and possessed personalities that worked well together. It was necessary for them to complement each other as one might be strong in one area and the other strong in a different area,
There was no problem with acceptance of this format by the children as they knew both teachers well. The teachers saw no difference in the children. Each teacher would work with all of the children. Whoever was acting as recorder would always be circulating among children, helping them with problems.
One important fact that Pat learned was that, if you make the environment “right”, children will learn to read and to read well! At Queenston School, the principal asked her and two other teachers (grades 1, 2, 3) to use an individualized reading programme, which was a different approach to teaching reading. It was a great success! They found that the children advanced to two or three levels above their grade.
She described this individualized programme of the 1970s and early 1980s as being very different from the traditional approach. In traditional classes at that time, there would be two readers with workbooks to go with them. All activities were built around the readers and the stories in them.
Using the individualized child-centred approach meant starting with the children’s own vocabulary. They used unit themes – for example, Halloween – which ran two to four weeks. The children were asked to offer words that they knew relating to the theme. The facilitator recorded the words on slips of paper, which she placed onto tape attached from top to bottom of the blackboard. They would spend about 15 minutes a day doing this. They would go over all of the words in a process which they called patter. Each day, they would add to the list until there were no more new words. The growing list would be pattered every day. In this way, the children built a vocabulary. These words were then used in everything on which they worked. Thus, the class activities were built around that vocabulary. The teachers reinforced those words with the teaching of poetry and songs that they collected about the theme. The children also kept journals of vocabulary.
In order for this approach to work well, it was necessary that there be a good library in the school. The teachers would take the children to the library after having coordinated with the librarian. The children would choose two to four books each, trying to select what they could read. Their approach was to turn to a page near the centre of a book. In reading that page, they would keep track of words which they did not know. When the number reached five, it was deemed that the book was too difficult. Therefore, it was returned to shelf to await a later date. If they could read the page well, maybe they needed a book just a bit harder. When they finished reading a book, the children would put it on shelf in their classroom for someone else to read. This provided many choices since each child had brought into the room three or four books. The teachers felt good that the children were not choosing books which they could not read. Those who read above their level would choose suitable books for themselves. The teachers found that this was an effective method for teaching reading. Pat loved it! She found that these children really developed – much faster than those with the traditional method in using only two readers.
In the massive amount of paper work required, Pat cautions new teachers in the profession not to forget the children! You have an opportunity to help these children to reach their potential and become the best citizens they can be, Be prepared to work hard!
After they retired in 1987, Pat and her husband Neil became involved in Habitat for Humanity. Habitat had just been founded in Winnipeg a short time before that, with the first work camp/build being in the summer of 1988. She was director of food for the first five work camp/builds and continued helping with the food service for another eight years. Neil worked as a crew member, a crew leader, and a house leader over fourteen years.
Through their work with Habitat, they were recruited by the De Fehr Foundation to go to Lithuania for six weeks of volunteering. The De Fehrs were establishing an English Christian College in Klaipeda, Lithuania, a city of 200,000 along the Baltic Sea, with the help of volunteers mainly from U.S. and Canada. De Fehr had been granted an old Navy barracks that was being renovated for student dormitories. Again, Pat worked in food services, feeding the crew as everyone lived together on one floor in an apartment near the worksite. Neil built furniture for the apartments being constructed for students.
Pat and Neil received the Premier’s Volunteer Award in 1999, following the trip to Lithuania. They were nominated by Dr. Cynthia Cameron, a friend, neighbour, and a member of the same church that they attended. Other volunteering work in which they were involved include Meals on Wheels (15 years), West Broadway Street Ministry (11 years), and Church committees (seemingly forever).
Even with all of their activities, they have time for hobbies. Travelling has been one of their favourites. They have crossed Canada, except for Newfoundland, and much of U.S. by automobile. This includes going to Alaska and Yukon Territory. They have also travelled in the British Isles, Scandanavia, western Europe, Greece, Egypt, Spain, Portugal, and Morocco and participated in a study tour of Cuba. They love visiting museums! Time was spent in three large cities: London, Paris, and New York. In addition, they also spent three-, four-, and six-week stays in Texas during winter. Other activities which they enjoy are reading, spending time with their grandchildren, belonging to a history club, and, of course, volunteering. However, as the years pass, they find themselves “running out of steam”, travelling much less, and volunteering very little. Now, they can relax.
(This page was updated in October 2012.)